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Poverty declines in Vancouver, shoots up in the suburbs

Trend shows low income people are being displaced, says urban planner.

Number of seniors (over 65) living in low income households in Metro Vancouver by census tract, using Statistics Canada data from Census 2016.

Andy Yan/SFU

Number of seniors (over 65) living in low income households in Metro Vancouver by census tract, using Statistics Canada data from Census 2016.

Among Canada’s 10 biggest cities, Metro Vancouver continues to have the highest percentage of residents living in poverty — and they’re increasingly living in the suburbs.

“Are these municipalities ready to engage these issues of poverty and really ensure that there’s a level of social and economic mobility happening — as opposed to an entrenched poverty in the suburbs?” said Andy Yan, an urban planner and director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.

Yan recently compared data from Statistics Canada’s Census 2006 and Census 2016, and found that poverty increased by a huge amount in West Vancouver — home of some of the most expensive real estate in Canada — as well as the UBC Endowment Lands and suburbs like Coquitlam, Langely, Port Moody and Delta.

Poverty levels decreased by seven per cent in Vancouver. Poverty in the Metro Vancouver region increased slightly, from 16.3 per cent in 2005 to 16.5 per cent in 2015. Montreal had the second highest rate in 2005, at 16 per cent, and Toronto has the second highest rate in 2015, at 15.6 per cent.

Between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of people living in low-income households shot up in several Metro Vancouver suburbs - but declined in Vancouver. Data source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census.

Andy Yan/SFU

Between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of people living in low-income households shot up in several Metro Vancouver suburbs - but declined in Vancouver. Data source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census.

Economists and data experts have raised questions over the odd correlation between low incomes and very high housing prices in some Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods, especially in West Vancouver, Vancouver’s Westside and Richmond — areas of the city that have become popular with foreign nationals and immigrants who have bought very expensive housing, but do not make their income locally.

Yan acknowledged that the underreporting of global income sources could be part of what’s going on in these statistics. But with seniors’ poverty rising by 57 per cent between 2005 and 2015 in West Vancouver, and concentrated in the small area of the city that offers multi-family housing, it’s likely the numbers do point to a real trend of increasing poverty.

Yan pointed to several “pockets” of poverty throughout the region: the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona, near downtown Vancouver, won’t surprise anyone. Other areas include the Brighouse area in Richmond, Kingway near Metrotown in Burnaby, and Guildford in Surrey.

Number of individuals living in low-income households in Metro Vancouver, by census tract. Data source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census.

Andy Yan/SFU

Number of individuals living in low-income households in Metro Vancouver, by census tract. Data source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census.

Several of those neighbourhoods are under threat: Metrotown’s affordable low-rise apartment buildings are being inexorably replaced by high-rise condos. The Downtown Eastside and Strathcona saw the highest rise in incomes in B.C., according to CBC data journalist Tara Carman, which Yan says likely shows the impact of the new condos that have been built in that neighbourhood.

“It also shows you why people were fighting as hard as they were in Chinatown,” said Yan, referring to recent opposition to a proposed Chinatown condo building that was ultimately rejected by Vancouver city council.

“Where do these people go if not in this community? Because it doesn’t look like they’ll be welcomed in other communities around the region.”

The seven per cent drop in poverty in Vancouver shows, to Yan, that people are being displaced as property prices have risen.

The fact that some of those neighbourhoods are not well-serviced by transit is also a concern for Yan because transportation networks are “a means of getting people out of poverty or mitigating their low-income status.” (In other words, you can’t hold down a job if you have no reliable way to get to work.)

Number of people living in low income households, and SkyTrain lines. Data source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census.

Andy Yan/SFU

Number of people living in low income households, and SkyTrain lines. Data source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census.

The pressures of Metro Vancouver’s high-price, high-rent, low vacancy rate housing market are having an immediate impact on low-income people in the region.

“The Vancouver housing system is extremely stressed these days and it’s pushing seniors right out of housing and into homelessness,” said Lorraine Copas, executive director of the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C., during a Sept. 27 press conference to discuss data collected during Metro Vancouver’s 2017 homeless count.

The count showed seniors now make up 23 per cent of the region’s homeless, compared to 18 per cent in 2008. Meanwhile, 34 per cent of the region's homeless are aboriginal, while making up just 2.5 per cent of the general population.

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